To Streak or Not to Streak?
It’s that time of year again, when Runner’s World promotes the idea of a run streak, or running for at least a mile every day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Although I try really hard not to be a Grinch about streaking, what I’ve noticed anecdotally is that only a small portion of runners can handle a streak in stride (pun intended).
RW acknowledges that runners who are relatively new to the sport (six months or less) shouldn’t attempt a streak. Yet I think streaking is a bad idea for the majority of runners. Here’s why:
#1: Not Enough Rest
I am a HUGE proponent of recovery. Some people can work out every day for a few weeks or months, or maybe even a year or two, but there’s always going to be a point where they end up overtrained. We grow stronger and fitter because workouts create tiny tears in our muscle fibers. Our bodies need time (rest day!) to stitch up those tears and make our muscles ready to work out again, which restarts the workout/rest/build strength cycle. When we don’t rest, those fibers don’t repair. We end up going into hard workouts or a training cycle with damaged muscles, which can increase the chance of injury.
#2: Really Hard on the Body
In my experience, runners who try to streak often have a history of injury,
overtraining, or are struggling to meet their existing goals. I’m not sure if it’s just coincidence or an actual correlation, but the runners I see who have had to defer from their goal race due to injury or illness are also the most likely to sign up for a streak. Many runners don’t realize when their current training strategy isn’t helping, and may even be hurting, their performance. In any case, streaking is super-hard on the body because of the lack of rest and the focus on one activity (running), rather than a variety of exercises (cross-training). RW advocates for easy, slow runs, yet most runners I know would run at their normal speed, or be tempted to go faster, because the run is so short, or they just need to get the workout in, or they see pace as a barometer of how “successful” that run is (which is also problematic).
#3: Creates Mental and Emotional Stress
Runners I know are generally achievement junkies who want to follow through on their goals. Usually, being a little bit type-A helps. But, as overachiever myself, I know that it’s as easy to overcommit ourselves, which creates stress. That’s why I think that a streak can be as hard mentally as it is physically. You have to get out there every day, even though most people’s schedules are hectic, even disrupted, due to extra obligations around the holidays. Many runners I work with pressure themselves to follow through on every workout perfectly. A streak feeds into that tendency without the benefit of training for a race. There are so many things that are out of your control during the holiday: travel plans, the weather, whether your family wants to spend every waking moment together. It can be hard to find the time to get out for a run every single day, even if it is only a mile. There’s enough stress around the holidays; there’s no need to add one more thing to your to-do list.
In my opinion, the potential harm of a streak outweighs the benefit. The only positive, for me, is that streaking gives you an excuse to get away from your family when your uncle opens the egg nog at 10am or snow has kept the kids inside all day.
That’s why I think we can build a smarter goal for ourselves than #RWRunStreak.
If you want to be active and not lose any fitness over the holidays, just try to run three times a week for an average of 10 to 15 miles total. Simple, easy. If you’d like to streak but the #RWRunStreak sounds like a challenge, swap some of the runs for walks (I won’t tell anyone!), or just make an effort to be active for twenty minutes every day.
Scott and I are heading to Tennessee for Christmas this year. I plan to run while I’m there, but also to take my nephews for an adventure one afternoon. What we do together won’t be a structured workout, but running after two little kids will definitely be enough exercise for both me and Scott. Not to mention that it will get us out of a house filled with baked goods, Southern cooking, and my uncle-in-law’s margaritas.